Meeting of no significance

I’m sitting at a coffee shop today and a girl walks in. It’s the kind of coffee shop in Manhattan that is only meant for coffee and food. There’s hardly any place to sit. Yet, I’ve been lucky enough to perch myself at the only ledge with some bar stools against the glass overlooking the street. People are walking along the sidewalk almost brushing my nose at breakneck speed just beyond the glass. It’s not very far from several train stations.

At first, the girl asks me to keep her seat while she goes to get food. I’m absorbed in my phone a long time when I suddenly notice a voice next to me. “Would you? ” I look up and don’t know what she means and she whispers in my ear. “Would you tell her that’s rude?”

I try to stretch myself to look beyond her to see what she means. I notice a pretty teenage girl combing her hair while my neighbour is having her wrap and soda. At first I think my neighbour is asking me to say something to the girl but I quickly realize that’s not what she means.

Thankfully, the pretty girl leaves soon after her grooming session. My neighbour explains that she wanted to tell the girl to stop combing her hair next to her food but couldn’t.

It would have been just a self-exploratory conversation with nothing expected of me but to listen except that she begins to ask me questions. “Do you think I’m germophobic? Do these things bother you? Have you seen anything like it before? ”

I tell her I’m from India. I’ve seen a wide range of eating places.

Soon we strike up a conversation about what I mean by range and what her experience of public eating places in New York has been. “You never know who’s been there before you,” she says.

One topic leads to another and she unexpectedly offers to help me with something. I’m touched. She recommends the chocolate chip cookies in the cafe and tells me the exact time when the baristas put out a fresh batch. She knows because she works in the building right opposite the cafe. Then she leaves.

I know I’ll probably never get that email with the details she promised. I know I’ll probably never meet her again. Yet, the conversation cheers me up despite the fact that I find the whole context of the experience rather odd. She probably wanted to confess to someone that she needed to muster up strength to stand up to people.

And me? Well, I probably just needed to talk.

It was the sort of conversation that you can have only with people you meet at cafes, in elevators, while waiting for the bus. Sudden revelations that would be awkward to talk about with friends–conversations that can only happen in such huge cities where you’re guaranteed not to meet the same people again.

Or even if you do meet them again, there’s bound to be so many others just like them that you’ll think it’s one of those others that you met. And you’ll continue towards your station at breakneck speed just like those others that you know you’ve never met .

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40 thoughts on “Meeting of no significance”

  1. Good post, bottledworder. I work in Manhattan everyday and sometimes have the most interesting conversations with people I meet in stores and on the street. Just the other day, me and the girl who was serving me my pizza for lunch, got into a fun conversation about oldies music that was playing on the store radio. She was quite knowledgable about oldies music, considering she was about 30 years younger than me.

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  2. Wow, what a perspective and the stories of strangers. There was a strange intimacy even though it was one conversation in a crowded café.

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  3. I met someone (at a recent interview), she was great and we clicked – we are both freelancing & she felt bad we wouldn’t see each other again, gave me her business card. I felt blessed to have this connection as it took my mind of the butterflies in my stomach.
    The universe makes paths cross for reasons sometimes.

    Talking of paths crossing. My blog was nominated for an award recently. Best /moment award – I am delighted to tell you I have nominated your blog for this award too!
    I’m not sure you accept them, your blog was one of the first few I followed, your posts are inspiring. I don’t often have time to venture through the blogs I follow – I try to use Reader to keep up to date. I love your blog!

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  4. Hi BW, I like your blog and I can truly say that I meet a lots of people like that. I work at a bank and a lot of times I get customer that just open up to me about things that are going on in thier lifes. Sometime I just listen because I feel they needed someone to talk to even tho I am a stranger to them. Then sometime I ask the Lord to give me the right words to say to them. I met a dear friend of mines at a conference four years ago, we were passing by each other when she stop and ask me a question, well to make things short and to the point, we became friends that day. So even tho you might have felt that it was of no significance, it was because you took the time to listen to her and to talk to her and that might have been all she need for that day. Be Bless, DIVA Iketha

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  5. Conversations with a stranger, with really no point like this, are my favorite things to experience. They almost make really good blog posts. Sometimes, I think this is where the details of life lie the strongest. Great post!

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  6. A meeting of no significance becomes fodder for a blog post, which then generates thoughts and comments from readers all over the country (or the world?)… curious, no?

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  7. I like your new masthead, Bottledworder. And I liked this post, except that I don’t agree that the meeting had no significance, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to write about it. It calls to mind all the conversations I’ve had, at hotels, in taxis, on planes; most of the time neither the person nor I have followed up, though at the time we said we would. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about this, especially when there’s a power imbalance involved (as in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story, “Interpreter of Maladies”; your story makes me feel less guilty.

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      1. I’m referring to your “Meeting of No Significance” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s title story, “Interpreter of Maladies.” Somehow your story makes me feel okay about having promised to write to someone met on a chance encounter and then failing to do so; able simply to accept the encounter as a thing unto itself that needs no follow-up. But in Jhumpa Lahiri’s story I felt outraged at the entitlement of the Indian American, who could let that slip of paper with the travel guide’s address on it slip away so carelessly, while to the travel guide the prospect of a correspondence has meant so much more.

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        1. I see. So well put. I may have the stories mixed up in my head but wasn’t the title story about the couple set in Boston who can’t have children and the one you’re referring to the one set in Konarak with the couple with three sons who visit with the tour guide? I’ll check the book.

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  8. I love how life gives us great material to write about… if we just stop, look up, and engage with it. This is a fun story; thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  9. I don’t believe in coincidence. The meeting will come up for you again in some way. Sometimes these events are a mirror for us to see something in ourselves. Other times they may be a learning opportunity that helps us grow. It was a delightful few moments, the two of you connecting in a cocoon when the rest of New York is rushing by.

    Smiles,

    Linda Joyce

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  10. First of all, I agree with the comment that this sounds like a Seinfeld sketch. Or it could be a SNL skit. It is so funny. BW, I’m laughing to myself how the girl asks you, a perfect stranger to watch her seat for her while she gets her food amd then turns you into her therapist so she can vent about other strangers. Pretty funny.

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  11. I often find myself having these strange and yet enlightening moments in my life. I live for them! The build into something more… It is like going to a busy place and people watching… it just does something in your mind!

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  12. I find it interesting when 2 strangers meet and open up conversation, and it feels like you’ve known each other forever. I can’t make such a claim (I know, weird hey?) I guess, it’s because I live in a less populated place unlike Manhattan, and perhaps that people are more hung up about being open to strangers here… I’m not sure.

    Good entry!

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  13. I enjoyed this post. I live in Shanghai and people often clip their toenails on the subway. It’s not considered rude; people do it all the time, but I’m always looking around for an ally, someone with whom I can make the eye contact that says, “gross, right?” But my eye contact never lands and I end up spinning around on the spot while everyone else looks at me and then at each other and thinks, “she’s strange, right?”

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  14. I find myself, too often, gushing to strangers about inner conflict. I really enjoyed this post. Its fascinating that people who in the long-run can mean nothing to our lives can make the kind of mark on our day- or our week- that compels us to WRITE about THEM! There is something so special and unique about this process, no? That someone in the world who (possibly) needed to be noticed was noticed by you- and that they may not ever read this blog post and understand that you really were listening. Thank you for sharing 🙂 xx, a

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